A Message from Lachlan

I feel like I’m in a Peter Allen song. From Paris to Sydney and then Perth in a week. But thank god I’m not.

I am excited to finally be at PWA and getting down to work with the team. I thank Christie, Jorjia, Leila, Michelle and Sophie for all the work they have done and I am grateful to PWA for allowing me to undertake my Australia Council professional development.

The highlight of my first week was the first of our consultation visits with playwrights in Western Australia. Most of the writers in the room were from Perth but we were glad to be able to support some Broome-based artists to be there too.

While the rest of Perth’s population were taking selfies in front of weird and wiry Christmas installations, Christie, Michelle and I listened to what 30 playwrights had to say about the state of play for new writing in WA, determining what role PWA can play in empowering and connecting them, finding opportunities for skills building and ways to get their work on stages.

There was a lot of talk about the need for a second-tier company, excitement about the new direction of Black Swan and baskets of love for the Blue Room and the way it supports emerging artists. What also came through loud and clear was that there is a very different model of making in Perth, where a range of devising models have brought the playwright into new collaborative teams. It is clear to us that PWA must cater to an increasingly diverse ways of developing work and embrace an array of dramaturgical approaches.

The big questions of the day were around how to decrease the isolation felt by many writers in the west as well as how to provide skills development and encourage more rigorous development models so better work can be made. There was also a great conversation about increasing longevity of new and existing works.

When you sit in a room and listen to playwrights talk, it is a privilege to hear so many points of view. It got me thinking about how our team best engages. For some time now, I have been determined to set up regular consultation with playwrights across Australia. I believed that a consult group with reps from each state or region was the way to go. However, after the session on the weekend, I believe that there is more value in having regular gatherings where a wide range of playwrights can come together, and we sit down and take the time to hear what they have to say. In the room on Saturday there was a huge range of people invested in writing for theatre and their combined experience, ambition and needs can never be represented by one person. For this reason, PWA will continue to engage with playwrights in this way, offering as many tribal gatherings as our funds will allow to enable us to hear as many voices as we can and use what we hear to formulate our programs and strategies.

This week we head to Adelaide to run a similar consultation with 30 South Australian playwrights. We plan to do the same in other parts of Australia in the first part of 2019.

One of the things that came up a lot for me when talking to writers in WA is the question of the sort of responsibilities, we writers take on ourselves. When it comes to the question of longevity of our plays it is very easy to complain that there is a profound lack of second productions for new Australian work. This is certainly an issue that PWA plans to address in future strategies and partnerships with producing companies. But I wonder how we playwrights take on more responsibility for longevity of our work.

I know how frustrating it feels to work on a play for years and then not have it go to stage, or for it to be produced in a short season in one location and then never seen again. Most of the time we know that audiences in other places would be eager to see this same work, but it seems that so often these works are forgotten about. Theatre companies have to move on the next play and there is little energy expended on a post-mortem of the production, consideration of further development of the play script or the things we can do as writers to further promote the work or enhance opportunities for the work to be produced further. Maybe we get caught up in the company’s sense of post-mortem of the work and forget that it is the production that might be dead, not the script.

At PWA our focus is to empower writers and part of that is opening conversations with writers. I’m wondering how we can take responsibility and do more to promote the long life of our work and not just get swept along in the what’s up next energy that can drive companies?

Firstly, we can ask questions about how long we agree for the work to be licenced. Contracts vary but often a work gets tied up for too long after it is produced and companies aren’t held to account about their future intentions for particular works.

We can also look at plays the first production and how it matched our vision of it. What production decisions served the work and what ones didn’t? We can reflect on what we would change about the script for a second production presuming it is going to happen and adjust the script. We can find ways to keep talking about the work instead of the production; with peers, with artists at theatre companies. We can send the play out and we can keep talking about why production of plays past their first are important for audiences, for our artistic growth and for a sustainable sector.

If plays are not being produced a second time in Australia, we can also look at international opportunities. Can the work get staged in the US or New Zealand? If we have agents how can they support the ongoing life of a work? If we don’t have an agent, can peers suggest where the work can find new audiences? Do we find opportunities on sites like Play Submissions Helper and sift through the bizarre requirements of some for the better opportunities? Is there a chance for the work be translated into other languages to reach new audiences?

In my recent residency in France I worked closely with a translator and it was such a fascinating and revealing process. I was also excited to see the translation of Tom Holloway’s play Rouge Ciel Matin, [Red sky Morning] on display at Arts Cena Paris as an exemplary work. And of course, established writers such as Daniel Keene owe so much to their translators for the success of work in an international context.

Our plays can and should have longer and more exciting lives. Sure, some do, but more should. Perhaps the first thing to acknowledge is that most of us could do more to make this happen. If you have thoughts on this, or suggestions to add, please let me know or join the conversation on our Facebook page and let’s chat.

I’m not a huge fan of Christmas mainly because it is the time of the year when I really miss my Dad, Bob who looked like Santa and played him at our local shopping centre until he died suddenly. I know that this time of year can be a lonesome time- a time to miss people as much as it is to reconnect. I hope you enjoy it more than I do, but regardless I hope you get some time away from the laptop and emails to enjoy your prawns or vegan substitute and that you had a good year and can afford to buy something nice to bring in the new year drinking.

From all of us at PWA, thanks for your patience this year. We have had a lot of changes and it has not always been easy.

As the year ends we bid farewell to a highly valued member of our team, Sophie Levins. On behalf of the playwriting community, I thank you for your genuine care for what you do as well as all the work you have done to support playwrights, best practice and positive change.

To you all, happy and safe holiday season and we look forward to connecting with as many of you as possible in early 2019.

~ Lachlan

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